Friday, August 16, 2013

Interesting Clippings #18: Leprosy

When we think of leper colonies, we tend to think of medieval times but actually, there was no effective treatment for Leprosy until the 1940s and leper colonies were still in use well into the 20th century. The clipping to the right is from March 15, 1925 in which a woman who was infected with Mycobacterium leprae moved from Reading, PA to a federal leper colony in Carville, LA. Though the article says she remains hopeful of a cure, she probably didn't recover for another 20 years, if she lived that long. Though leprosy isn't fatal, we don't know how old she was at the time.

Although leprosy is very treatable today and only effects about 5% of people who come into contact with it anyway, much like many diseases, it can still be found untreated in underdeveloped countries.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

What's The Point?

I get asked this by a lot of people, what is the point of genealogy? Of learning about people I never even knew? Do my colonial ancestors really have anything to do with me, besides some DNA? I've even seen genealogy enthusiasts question it themselves. What is it about this that we enjoy so much? For me, there are many reasons, among them are uncovering mysteries, upholding family tradition, finding parts of my self identity, personalizing history, and honoring the memories of my ancestors.

My grandmother, who would have loved
to learn about all my discoveries
of our tree.
Quite simply, I enjoy the research and detective-like work. It's exciting to spend hours, weeks, months, even years looking for something and then finally find it. It provides such a sense of accomplishment, as though connecting the dots and uncovering a mystery. Sure, the information I've uncovered may seem mundane to some, not exactly a great mystery that will change the world, and the task of getting there will be tedious to others, but we all have our hobbies and who is to say which hobby is more worthy than another?

But more importantly, for me, it's also about family tradition. I had picked up my family tree where my maternal grandmother had left off, with lots of information and photos that my mother had held on to and lovingly passed on to me. I had grown up surrounded by photographs of my ancestors on first my grandmother's walls and then my mom's and I'm sure someday, they'll be on mine. So immediately, this was something that was a part of my family, and therefore a part of me. It was important to me because it meant something to my mom and grandmother. When I work on my tree and make new discoveries, I can't wait to share them with my mom and we frequently agree that her mother would have loved to hear about them too. Working on our tree has become a family tradition in itself.

I know some people struggle to understand how the lives of people I never met (or anyone else that I knew had ever met) could be a part of my self identity so I'll attempt to explain. I started researching my ancestry not long after I moved to the UK to live with my English husband. I discovered that I had an English branch of my tree which came from an area only about a 45 minute drive from where I was living in England! There are many things about England (especially the north of England) which I have fallen in love with (not in the least of all, my husband) and so I started to feel an emotional tie to my English ancestors because I feel I understand and love their culture. Of course it's changed a lot since they lived here but after living here for 7 years myself, England has become a part of my self identity and that allows me to identify with English ancestors.

Old Mennonite Meeting House
in Germantown, Philadelphia.
Part of my family history, part of
my home.
At the same time, being so far from my native Pennsylvania, my heart really did grow fonder for it and so I was thrilled to discover that many of my tree branches have a long, strong history in Pennsylvania, particularly the Philadelphia region. I never realized until I left how this area has been a huge part of my self identity and so when I found out that I have some very early colonial ancestry in Philadelphia, it only strengthened the emotional ties I have to the area. They say that home is where the heart is and my heart is in Pennsylvania.

On the other hand, it can be easier to identify with more recent immigrants. My paternal grandmother, known to our family as Nan, though born in America, was 100% Italian with six siblings. For me, growing up in this family with so many Italian-American aunts, uncles, and cousins was a large part of my life. Nan's father had immigrated in the early 20th century when he was a teenager and though I never met him (he died before I was born), I grew up hearing stories about him and it was obvious how much my big-fat-Italian-family had respected and admired him. I wish I could have known him but the more I learn about him through my research, the more I feel like I did know him. Genealogy doesn't have to be about going back to the 17th century and learning about people who are so far removed from your world that it doesn't feel like there's any connection. Genealogy can be about your parents, your grandparents, or your great grandparents. It can be about the people who, if not a part of your immediate world, were probably a big part of the lives of the people who you do know and love. They are a part of your self identity, if not directly, then through the influences of others. Each generation is like a bridge, linking the generations on either side of them together, even if they were never linked in life.

My Italian great grandparents, who I never met but almost feel
I have, through family stories and research.
Does one have to know their heritage to complete their self identity? Of course not, but personally, it has become a part of mine.

The third reason I enjoy genealogy is because this is history, personalized. I have always had an interest in history and when I'm not researching my tree (or blogging about it), I'm usually reading a historical novel or history book. Genealogy takes this to a personal level, like when I discovered my ancestor's street was flooded in the 1907 Pittsburgh flood, or when I found a headstone of my ancestor's that says "A Soldier of 1812". These are historic events that are now a part of my own family history. I never had much of an interest in learning about the American Civil War but now that I know I had relatives who fought it in, I do want to know more.

The final reason I research my family tree is to honor the memories of my ancestors. Again, one might ask "why bother, if you never knew them?" Well, that's exactly why I do it. It really depresses me to consider that when I'm gone, and when everyone who knew and loved me is gone too, I will be completely forgotten to history, as though my life meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. I am an average person, I accept that I am probably not going to wind up doing anything so important as to get my name in a history book, but what I have difficulty accepting is that eventually I will be entirely forgotten, even to my descendants. And most of my ancestors were the same, they were average people just like me - but they laughed, they cried, they loved, they got angry. That is perhaps the biggest reason I do this, so that the lives of my ancestors won't be forgotten this way. Just because they may not have been famous doesn't mean their lives were meaningless because if they were, then mine is too and I don't believe that.

Perhaps some people still just don't get why I love it so much, maybe it's just different strokes for different folks, but those are my reasons. What are yours? Why do you spend all this time, energy, and money on this particular hobby?

Interesting Clippings #17: Historical Uses of Cod Liver Oil

Ambler Gazette
Nov 3, 1898, p8
Cod liver oil is high in omega-3 as well as vitamin A and D. The health benefits of omega-3 are a relatively modern discovery, it's popularity skyrocketing only in the last couple decades. But historically, the vitamin content of cod liver oil was understood and it's for this reason that cod liver oil was often marketed as cures and treatment for a number of different ailments with varied results.

Today, cod liver oil is still used to aid in the treatment of arthritis and multiple sclerosis and one study has even suggested that it may also aid in the treatment of cancer, though this is not to say these diseases can be treated with cod liver oil alone! Cod liver oil is also recommended to be taken during pregnancy as it's believed to reduce the risk of diabetes.

Ambler Gazette
July 30, 1896
page 4
Historically, it was marketed to treat or cure anything from the common cold and poor digestion to tuberculosis and pulmonary problems but how effective it was is really open to debate. We know today that tuberculosis is a bacteria that is easily treatable with antibiotics and therefore has been nearly eradicated from the developed world. So could omega-3 and vitamins really cure a bacterial disease? Probably not but they could have helped boost one's general health and immune system, which may have aided in one's natural recovery.

Granted, I'm certainly no medical expert but I recently read Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today which talks a lot about how our resistance to certain infectious diseases grew over centuries and in addition, how infectious diseases were forced to become weaker so that they might spread more easily and survive. Because of both of these natural occurrences, many diseases which were once extremely fatal had a relatively low mortality rate later in history, despite a lack of effective medical treatment. Therefore, it's somewhat understandable how and why people of the past believed in treatments which we now know probably did little to nothing. Over time, it could have been said "since the use of cod liver oil, mortality rates for tuberculosis have dropped by x%" when in reality, they were just seeing a natural decline over time. This is why we still shouldn't jump to conclusions when we see all these statistics about modern medical treatments too - it's difficult to know for sure when we're seeing a direct cause and effect rather than there being other influences at work.

Scott's Emulsion, as seen advertised in these historical newspaper clippings, is actually still in production, although I imagine they no longer market it as a cure for tuberculosis!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Newspaper Search Engine

I came across a new resource to keep an eye on, it's a search engine for newspaper archives called Unfortunately, at the moment, there's not much on it. While they have over 1000 newspaper titles, there are only 12 archives it's searching among:
  • Boston College
  • California Digital Newspaper Collection (UC Riverside)
  • Cambridge Public Library, Massachusetts (sadly, they've spelled this wrong as well)
  • Chronicling America (US Library of Congress)
  • Door County Library (Illinois?)
  • Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand)
  • Singapore National Library Board
  • Trove (National Library of Australia)
  • University of California, San Francisco
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Missouri School of Journalism (Missouri Digital Heritage)
  • Kent State University (Ohio)
This is a great resource for someone to use if they are doing research in any of these specific locations but unfortunately there are no sources for many parts of the US or most other nations. For example, there are no UK newspapers and there's nothing from Pennsylvania, apart from what the Library of Congress covers, so for PA researches, you'd be better off just searching Chronicling America. Another good free PA newspaper archive is the Access Pennsylvania Digital Repository. They also missed out on a big national free source with Google's Newspaper Archive. And while it's not a search engine, there is an very comprehensive reference list of free and pay-for newspaper archive databases on Wikipedia where you will find many more sources from a vast array of locations. So Elephind is not very comprehensive yet but of course, this is a new search engine as far as I know so it may take time for them to build up their database and that's why it might be worth keeping an eye on.

Friday, August 9, 2013

August 9, On This Day in My Family Tree

164 years ago in 1849 my 4th great grandmother Ædel Bergitte Hansdatter Friis died of typhoid and cholera in Norway, Racine County, Wisconsin at the age of 66. Her husband followed her a mere six days later of the same diseases. They had only been in America for just over a year before their deaths, having emigrated from the parish of Herad in Vest-Agder County, Norway. It's sad to think that came to America for a better life but had they not, they might have lived longer. They are both buried in Norway Lutheran Church Cemetery.

Ædel's name is spelled with a letter called "ash" which was common in Old English and is still found in alphabets of certain languages today, including Norwegian.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The 'Not-So-Once-in-a-Lifetime' Immigration Trip

When we think of our ancestors stepping on a boat and taking an enduring trip across the Atlantic that could take weeks or even months before stepping off again in a new land, a place of unparalleled opportunity, we tend to assume that this was a one-way journey, leaving behind their home country, culture, and sometimes even family. But actually, by around the turn of the century, it was not unusual for people from certain cultures to make several trips back and forth between their home land and America. For Italians, this was especially true.

The Lahn, the ship which Angelo returned to the U.S. on
in 1903.
Over two million Italians immigrated to America during the 1910s, with a total of 5.3 million between the years 1880 and 1920 but about a third of them actually returned to Italy after an average of about five years of working in the United States. They went to America for the work and would return to Italy, sometimes briefly, sometimes permanently, for various reasons. One reason was for marriage. Many Italian males who were working in the US would return to Italy to find a bride who would later follow him back to America. This was probably because many Italian immigrants were males looking for work and although some of them were in the process of moving their family, including unmarried daughters or sisters, over to the U.S. with them, many had not. Many were young, unmarried males and the "dating pool" of unmarried, young Italian females was probably much bigger back home in Italy. My 19 year old Italian 2nd great grandfather Angelo Scioli found himself in this situation when he traveled from Philadelphia to Monteroduni where he married Josephine Biello in January of 1903. Angelo quickly returned to Philadelphia and Josephine joined him there later in the year.

So it's important to remember that our ancestor's immigration was not necessarily a once-in-a-lifetime trip and that by this period of time, it was not unusual to see a few back and forth travels, especially among Italians. Keep this in mind during your research so you're not overlooking passenger lists and immigration records or looking for a marriage record in the wrong country.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Philadelphia Historic Street Name Index

Philadelphia researchers might find a useful research tool in the city's Department of Records Historic Street Name Index which details street name changes and their locations:
This index was compiled from the original road records, docket books, jury decisions, and surveys held by the Philadelphia City Archives. From these sources the Philadelphia Department of Streets developed and maintains its comprehensive survey of official road records for the City. Changes to the names of certain streets, alleys, and courts were first effected by an ordinance dated September 1, 1858. A provision of this ordinance was an alphabetical index of former names, together with the location of the street and the new name given to it. By an ordinance of February 23, 1897 names of intermediate streets were indexed by old name, location and new name. Both indexes are held by the Philadelphia City Archives under Record Group 90.47.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

August 3, On This Day in My Family Tree

130 years ago in 1883, my great grandfather Chester Harold Godshall (Senior) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the third child of five and the first born son of William Henry Godshall and Idella Williams.

There's a number of surviving photos of Chester, who went by Harold. But I chose an informal snapshot, with a woman I think might be one of his sisters, because he looks like he's goofing around and enjoying himself. His formal portraits always make him look bored or annoyed (perhaps he was).

  • "Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Births, 1860-1906," index and images, FamilySearch (, Chester H. Godshall, 1883.
  • U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005. Chester Harold Godshall.
  • U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Chester Harold Godshall.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

August 1, On This Day in my Family Tree

Originally the Fever Ward of Oldham
Union Workhouse.
144 years ago in 1861, my 4th great grandfather John Fallows Sr. died at the age of 73 in Oldham, England. A farmer and laborer his whole life, he died penniless in the Oldham Union Workhouse, a place where people who could not support themselves due to poverty, age, or incompetence could find shelter, food, and work. Many workhouses later became hospitals and in particular, Oldham Union Workhouse is now Royal Oldham Hospital.

To the left is a Google Street image of what was originally the Fever Ward of Oldham Union Workhouse, now the Breast Care Unit of Royal Oldham Hospital. Though John Fallows may not have resided in the Fever Ward, it's an example of the architecture at the time.

  • Death Certificate of: John Fallows. Filed 31 August 1896. General Register Office. Oldham, Lancashire, Vol 8d, p395. Informant: George Milne, Master of Union Workhouse.